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Environmental Influence

rachelr's picture

I greatly enjoyed the readings for this week; I felt that they all built up on each other and I found myself reading all of the articles with interest, learning something new. What most interested me was the stress put on the environment as a factor in testosterone levels and linked to that, behavior. Not only does our culture stress testosterone as a metaphor for manhood but it is high susceptible to the environment, creating complex correlations and facilitating risk (The He Hormone). Both physical and mental performance depend on testosterone levels in both men and women. I was actually incredibly offended in The He Hormone when, right after we hear about Toys “R” Us trying to make different sections for boys and girls in their stores and Fox Family and their “boyz” and “girlz” channels that Matt Ridley starts drawing lines between male and female behavior and ending with, “…a feminine paradise would have arrived.” By saying that, he draws gender binaries just as strong as those drawn by Toys “R” Us and Fox Family. I was very disappointed that his statement was even included.

In the Sapienza article I found it interesting that their tests suggest that “testosterone has nonlinear effects on risk aversion regardless of gender,” meaning that even though men have 10-20 times more testosterone than women, fluctuations of the respective levels have similar observable effects. While I knew that testosterone enhances motivation for competition and dominance and reduces fear, I did not know that it alters sensitivity to punishment and reward and the ability to emphasize. What this brings up for me though is the question of testosterone levels in sociopaths, for example. They have high motivation for competition and dominance, seemingly no fear or response to punishment and reward, and a strange dynamic between expressed empathy and no empathy. They are socially suave yet have neurological imbalances that put their true social functioning out of the norm. I found a statistic online that says that “An estimated 3% of all adult males have this sociopathic disorder… Only a small fraction of this percentage actually develop into violent criminals.” I think it would be interesting to look at testosterone levels not only in criminals overall but break it down further to see what biological mechanisms determine or increase likelihoods of certain crimes being committed by certain individuals.

As always, it’s a thin line between environmental effects and just the way we each were born to be.